In 1994 Sebastien Marot was visiting Cambodia. He saw that when he gave food to poor kids in the streets, others gave, too, and the kids became professional beggars. With his two partners, he decided to do something different. They founded Friends International (FI) with a mission, "to build a future where all children are safe from all forms of abuse, can become productive citizens of their countries and contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world."
Twenty-two years later, FI is an international social enterprise and registered non-governmental organization focusing on children's empowerment. FI and its partners reach out to over 60,000 at-risk children and young people, their families and communities each year supporting them to become productive and functional citizens of their countries. FI works in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and with 38 partners around the world, providing comprehensive social services to marginalized urban young people and their families. Since its inception, FI has supported the education, well-being, and sustainable reintegration of more than 300,000 marginalized children, youth, and caregivers.
The key ideas: Create a franchise of a sustainable and profitable social enterprise that attracts marginalized kids and give them learning opportunities to acquire professions in the F&B field resulting with self-sustained, contributing young adults who can feed themselves and their families with dignity and pride and help to expand the program even further.
General: According to Sebastien Marot, more than half a billion children are pushed to the margin of society. Street children, migrant children, working children, abused children, children in prison, and others. This is a big problem because these kids are not educated, will not join the economy as contributors and consumers, but are at risk of drugs, crime, and further abuse to continue the vicious circle of poverty. This is bad for the economy and bad for us all, as we are all connected. So his initiative tries to address it on a wide scale that can deliver massive impact. To really support the children to become productive and self-sustainable, contributing adults and change their fate, we need new models that combine the best of the business world and the NGO world and scale it up with holistic approaches.
Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management
TREE = Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship:
Core TREE Components:
1. Efficient Vocational Training: Food & Beverage (F&B) is one of the most efficient vocational training for youth in terms of attractiveness and quality of skill training. A training curriculum based on a proven and highly successful model combining hands-on, on-the-job training with life skills education and all the necessary social supports. Practicing learning on the job by being put in direct contact with real customers is the best way for students to learn.
2. Strong Social Impact: Providing a training service that is not available to most marginalized youth and adults in many countries, helping students to reintegrate into society. Closing the loop and taking care of the graduates has a strong social impact in terms of job placement in a sector with high-quality job opportunities and stable, attractive salaries.
3. Viable Successful Business Model: With good management and discipline, a set of restaurant businesses operating profitably since their first year of operation. Providing effective programs in terms of income generation and revenue support for the social component of the associated programs.
When Sebastien Marot reached Cambodia in 1994, it was just two years after the peace accords. There was an influx of NGOs and fund that made a minimal impact on people's lives. It was unsafe and nonhygenic era. There were many uncleared land mines. There was limited or no running water and electricity. When Sebastien Marot saw kids sleeping in the street on cardboards, it had a big impact on him. He felt the injustice and frustration of how good will and funds leave the kids behind.
Out of good will, he started to make for them what a typical French man will, baguette with ham and cheese. The kids were not used to the ham and cheese, they threw them away and ate just the baguette. His friend Mark had learned about their eating preferences, and they did better with rice and fish. But as the kids were fed many meals a day, they were not engaged and had no responsibility.
So they asked the kids for what do they want. They answered: education and a safe place to stay. His plan was to use the rest of his money for three months and open a center to provide the kids with food, safety, and education. After one week almost all of the kids left. They did not want just education; they wanted to acquire vocational training so they can find jobs.
So in 1994/5, Sebastien Marot had a vision to help kids to become functional and productive citizens, abandoning the charity model and embarking on social enterprising.
At first, the NGO community looked down on this work and even talked of it as evil. He started several stand-alone businesses like motorcycle business, laundry, and more. The tipping point was his first restaurant that was opened in 1999.
The first time I had visited Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh in 2012, it was love at first sight. While my mission there was to build homes together with my friends, this part of a much bigger social enterprise went into my heart. So I wrote a review: www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g293940-d1217419-r135227195-Romdeng-Phnom_Penh.html#REVIEWS. You can find in the review my excitement from the fact that the kids who served us were coached and while earning, they were acquiring a needed vocation with which they could get decent jobs in the F&B industry.
1. No Poverty: Get at-risk kids off the street, give them a vocation, education, place them at decent jobs or help them with setting up their own food place.
4. Quality education: Give the kids relevant vocations and quality education.
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: From the first day as they learn and serve, to placement of graduates to be integrated into the workforce, it makes impact on the kids, their families, their communities, and the economy.
10. Reduced Inequalities: By giving the kids education and work, they can become sustainable adults. They have new opportunities to become contributing and productive young adults.
It is not easy to open a successful restaurant. Most F&B new outlets fail on the first three years. It is also not easy to take marginalized kids off the streets and train them. This innovation managed to do both successfully and managed to start and franchise itself. Now it needs to attract and train more capable franchises who will invest in replicating the model as often as possible in poor countries.
• In 2001, Friends-International opened its first vocational training restaurant in Phnom Penh
• The organization’s first restaurant, Friends, the Restaurant, in Phnom Penh, has been operating profitably since early on – just like the other vocational training restaurants which have been gradually opened since then
• To expand its programs and to further replicate a successful and proven model, all of FI’s business activities in the hospitality sector are grouped under one brand, the TREE Alliance, in 2011
• TREE Alliance’s sixth social business was opened in October 2014 in Luang Prabang, Laos.
• Several follow-up projects are in exploration or planning stage with the objective to grow the TREE Alliance moderately with approximately two new entities each year
Take marginalized kids off the streets.
Help them to get F&B (Food and Beverage) vocational education and practical experience.
Create jobs. Assist graduates to get outside jobs or create new small businesses.
Replicate this concept successfully and sustainably as franchise of this working Social Enterprise.
Sebastien Marot, Founder and Executive Director, Friends-International
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Year Founded: 1994
Number of Employees: 201-500